By now, many of you have read of the Catholic priest of the Diocese of Arlington who wrote an article in the Arlington Catholic Herald where he revealed his past as a member of the Ku Klux Klan when he was a college student in his early twenties.
Father William Aitcheson, now 62, revealed his past in an article after, he says, he was troubled by the violence in Charlottesville, VA. His actions as a member of the KKK, including burning a cross on a black family’s lawn and sending a threatening letter to Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King, Jr’s widow, took place long before he turned to Christ and decided to live his Catholic faith seriously and long before he was ordained to the Catholic priesthood. His actions, back in 1977, were a matter of public record, and the diocese knew of them, but they were not well known by Catholics in the Diocese of Arlington until the publication of his article. Some claim that the article came out in response to a phone call the diocese received from a freelance writer who claimed to be a parishioner and learned that Fr. Aitcheson’s name matched that of a young man who was convicted of these racist crimes. Apparently, it was this writer’s intent to expose Fr. Aitcheson. For the life of me, I’ve no idea what arrogance or sense of righteous indignation a person must possess to presume the authority to expose a person’s past crimes for which he was duly convicted and sentenced. Was it this person’s expectation that the diocese, and all Catholics, react with outrage that a person who was once a sinner is now redeemed by the blood of Christ? Is it that the current political and social milieu demand that people be perpetually held accountable and ostracized for their past sins? God help us all!
Fr. Aitcheson asked for and received a request for a voluntary leave of absence from active ministry as associate pastor at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Fairfax, VA. At first, I didn’t understand why Fr. Aitcheson would request a leave of absence. Later, I learned that, in a civil suit, he was obliged by a judge to recompense his victims to the tune of $23,000, and he has never done so. In light of that, it does make sense that he take a leave. The diocese, while saying that they knew of Fr. Aitcheson’s racist past and crimes, says they were unaware of his unpaid fine until this week and that Fr. Aitcheson intends to fulfill his legal obligations.
Sadly, according to an article in The Washington Post, Philip and Barbara Butler, on whose lawn the young Aitcheson burned a cross, seem less interested in forgiving Fr. Aitcheson for his past actions than in questioning the legitimacy of his conversion. Through their attorney, Ted Williams, and in the context of a press conference, they are wondering what Fr. Aitcheson’s true motives are, why he is only confessing now, and they are demanding that he name any accomplices they are certain he had. But, Fr. Aitcheson is not only confessing now. His actions and his conviction, along with the jail sentence he served, is a matter of public record. He has agreed to cooperate with the authorities in divulging information that has not yet come out. The Diocese of Arlington released a statement in response to the Butler’s press conference that can be read here.
Comments to the article are just as disappointing. One comment, by someone who calls him or herself “BoogieKnights,” demands, “No redemption for nazis and white supremacists.” Referring to Aitcheson, BoogieKnights insists, “He doesn’t deserve forgiveness.”
No, of course he doesn’t. Neither do I. Neither does “BoogieKnights,” for that matter. “All have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God,” St. Paul wrote (Romans 3:23).
I have often said that, were any man my judge, I would be damned to hell in a heartbeat. But, thanks be to God that Jesus is my judge! My only hope is that Jesus is my judge. We “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as an expiation, through faith, by his blood, to prove his righteousness because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed, through the forebearance of God — to prove his righteousness in the present time, that he might be righteous and justify the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:24-26).
None of us deserve to be forgiven for our sins. Fr. Aitcheson doesn’t. The Bulters don’t. “BoogieKnights” doesn’t. I don’t. You don’t. It is by the free gift of God, by the grace won by our Savior Jesus Christ, that we are forgiven. Fr. Aitcheson knows that, and he has placed his hope in the mercy of Christ. So should we all.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.